Edward Teller and the Hydrogen Bomb

Edward Teller in his later years
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"What we should have learned is that the world is small, that peace is important and that cooperation in science... could contribute to peace. Nuclear weapons, in a peaceful world, will have a limited importance."
(Edward Teller in CNN interview)

Theoretical physicist Edward Teller is often referred to as the "Father of the H-Bomb." He was part of a group of scientists who invented the atomic bomb as part of the U.S. government-led Manhattan Project. He was also the co-founder of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, where together with Ernest Lawrence, Luis Alvarez, and others, he invented the hydrogen bomb in 1951. Teller spent most of the 1960s working to keep the United States ahead of the Soviet Union in the nuclear arms race.

Teller's Education and Contributions

Teller was born in Budapest, Hungary in 1908. He earned a degree in chemical engineering at the Institute of Technology in Karlsruhe, Germany and received his Ph.D. in physical chemistry at the University of Leipzig. His doctoral thesis was on the hydrogen molecular ion, the foundation for the theory of molecular orbitals that remains accepted to this day. Although his early training was in chemical physics and spectroscopy, Teller also made substantial contributions to diverse fields such as nuclear physics, plasma physics, astrophysics, and statistical mechanics.

The Atomic Bomb

It was Edward Teller who drove Leo Szilard and Eugene Wigner to meet with Albert Einstein, who together would write a letter to President Roosevelt urging him to pursue atomic weapons research before the Nazis did. Teller worked on the Manhattan Project at the Los Alamos National Laboratory and later became the lab's assistant director. This led to the invention of the atomic bomb in 1945.

The Hydrogen Bomb

In 1951, while still at Los Alamos, Teller came up with the idea for a thermonuclear weapon. Teller was more determined than ever to push for its development after the Soviet Union exploded an atomic bomb in 1949. This was a major reason why he was determined to lead the successful development and testing of the first hydrogen bomb.

In 1952, Ernest Lawrence and Teller opened the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, where he was the associate director from 1954 to 1958 and 1960 to 1965. He was its director from 1958 to 1960. For the next 50 years, Teller did his research at the Livermore National Laboratory, and between 1956 and 1960 he proposed and developed thermonuclear warheads small and light enough to be carried on submarine-launched ballistic missiles.


Teller published more than a dozen books on subjects ranging from energy policy to defense issues and was awarded 23 honorary degrees. He received numerous awards for his contributions to physics and public life. Two months before his death in 2003, Edward Teller was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom during a special ceremony conducted by President George W. Bush at the White House.

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Bellis, Mary. "Edward Teller and the Hydrogen Bomb." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, thoughtco.com/edward-teller-hydrogen-bomb-1992560. Bellis, Mary. (2023, April 5). Edward Teller and the Hydrogen Bomb. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/edward-teller-hydrogen-bomb-1992560 Bellis, Mary. "Edward Teller and the Hydrogen Bomb." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/edward-teller-hydrogen-bomb-1992560 (accessed May 28, 2023).